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A Guide To Starting A Career In Business Intelligence & The BI Skills You Need

The BI skills you need to start a career in business intelligence

Does data excite, inspire, or even amaze you?

Does the idea of discovering patterns in large volumes of information make you want to roll up your sleeves and get to work? Do you find computer science and its applications within the business world more than interesting? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider a career in business intelligence (BI).In the age of information, business information and intelligence, if utilized strategically, has the power to propel a business far above its competitors as well as exponentially boost brand awareness, internal engagement, organizational efficiency, and profitability. The BI industry is expected to soar to a value of $26.50 billion by the end of 2021. Moreover, companies that use BI analytics are five times more likely to make swifter, more informed decisions.

Despite these findings, the undeniable value of intelligence for business, and the incredible demand for BI skills, there is a severe shortage of BI-based data professionals – with a shortfall of 1.5 million in the USA alone.

That’s where you come in.

To tap into one of the exciting business intelligence careers available in today’s business environment, you will first need to develop a mix of specific BI skills, which are numerous and apply to many industries, making the shift easier.

So, what skills are needed for a business intelligence career? How do you get into this field? Do you need a good business intelligence resume? What does a profession in this field look like? And what other things do you need to consider to succeed in a BI-based role? Here, we will answer all of these questions and more, starting with the reasons to migrate toward one of the exciting jobs that companies are currently offering in the digital world.

Why Shift To A Business Intelligence Career?

This all-encompassing branch of online data analysis is a particularly interesting field because its roots are firmly planted in two separate areas: business strategy and computer science.

To understand this concept in a practical context, check out this video featuring an explanation from analyst  Sonya Fournier:

Now that we’ve explored BI in a real-world professional context, let’s look at the benefits of embarking on this occupation.

1. It’s Flexible

BI is a varied and expansive field, with many different areas to focus on or specialize in. This variety affords a great deal of flexibility without the need to completely shift your areas of expertise or skill set.

For example, if you enjoy computer science, programming, and data but are too extroverted to program all day long, you could work in a more human-oriented area of intelligence for business, perhaps involving more face-to-face interactions than most programmers would encounter on the job.

As BI professional Martin at the BI Cortex explains:

“Some people are made to spend long hours writing code... However, I quickly got really fidgety, longing for some human interaction. There is so much flexibility and variety when doing BI that other IT-related paths seem too bland or streamlined for my liking.”

On the flip side, if you enjoy diving deep into the technical side of things, with the right mix of skills for business intelligence you can work a host of incredibly interesting problems that will keep you in flow for hours on end.

2. There’s A Wealth Of Choice

With analytical and business intelligence competencies, you can also choose to work with specific types of firms or companies operating within a particular niche or industry. For example, if you’re passionate about healthcare reform, you can work as a BI professional who specializes in using data and online BI tools to make hospitals run more smoothly and effectively thanks to healthcare analytics.

Alternatively, if you enjoy other aspects of IT, including system administration, you could work with smaller companies and wear multiple hats. For instance, you could be the “self-service BI” person in addition to being the system admin.

3. A Wealth Of Job Openings And Compensation

Now, let’s get down to the “meat and potatoes” for a second. One great reason for a career in business intelligence is the rosy demand outlook. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for qualified business intelligence analysts and managers is expected to soar to 14% by 2026, with the overall need for data professionals to climb to 28% by the same year. This beats projections for almost all other occupations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that in 2015, the annual median salary for BI analysts was $81,320. Let’s look at where a career in business intelligence currently sits in terms of salary and compensation.

In the US, developer salaries in the field stand at around $86,000 per annum, with analytics managers earning an average of $105,000 per annum across the nation.

A career in business intelligence compensates very well in Europe, too. In Germany, even a junior BI role will earn you an average of EUR 62,300 per annum, and in Switzerland, you can make as much as EUR 108,400 per annum.

Business intelligence annual salaries in EUR

**Image source: datacareer.ch**

For a full rundown of European BI salary averages, check out this resource from Data Career. Not bad, huh? It seems that a business intelligence career path is very well paid, indeed. However, you should always keep in mind that salary figures and demand for BI professionals are highly dependent on geographical location and industry. This is because according to Recruiter.com, the vast majority of BI positions are in California, New York, or Texas. Your salary and the demand for BI analyst skills will be higher if you live in one of those states.

Map showing the variation of salaries across the US

Image source: Recruiter.com

4. A Progressive Career Path 

As we’ve just seen in the point above, BI is a profession that is on-demand and growing every year. This means there are many chances to grow and escalate fast. After acquiring 3 to 5 years of experience, you can specialize in a specific technology or industry and work as an analyst, IT expert, or even go to the management side by working as a BI project manager. We will cover BI job positions in more detail later in the post, but the important takeaway here is that this is a profession that is full of possibilities. With an immense amount of job prospects, you can start as a junior employee and escalate to senior positions where you can manage your own teams and projects. 

5. Development Of A Range Of Skills 

Apart from gaining knowledge in a specific industry, following a profession in BI can lead you to gain a range of skills that will make you a more complete professional. For instance, you will learn valuable communication and problem-solving skills, as well as business and data management. Added to this, if you work as a data analyst you can learn about finances, marketing, IT, human resources, and any other department that you work with. This will increase your knowledge base and leave you ready to face any type of job in the BI industry.

What Are The Necessary BI Skills?

Graphic displaying the top 10 skills needed to pursue a business intelligence career

We've established that a career in the field is potentially rewarding and well-compensated, but what skills are needed for a job in this most rewarding field of work? Let's take a look.

The specific skills needed for business intelligence will vary according to whether you want to be more of a back-end or a front-end BI professional. To simplify things, you can think of back-end BI skills as more technical in nature and related to building BI platforms, like online data visualization tools.

Front-end analytical and business intelligence skills are geared more towards presenting and communicating data to others. Regardless of the choice you make, you can always switch directions as your career progresses. You might also end up taking on all of these roles if you work at a smaller company. But no matter what path you choose, the following business intelligence skills are necessary – without them, you will be building a career based on very flaky foundations, limiting your prospects and increasing your potential for failure.

First of all, SQL Programming. SQL (or Structured Query Language) is a programming language that is commonly used in BI. Even if you are more of a front-end BI professional, you’ll need to know SQL and how to use it.

To help you with your studies, you can start here with a list of the best SQL books that will help you take your skills to the next level.

  • Data Analysis: Most BI skills and intelligence analyst-related skills are about using data to make better decisions. You need to be good at examining many different sources of data and then making accurate conclusions about them.
  • Problem-solving: BI isn’t just about analyzing data; it’s also about creating business strategies and solving real-world business problems with that data. For example, you could be the one to extract actionable insights from specific retail KPIs that need to be visualized and presented during a meeting.
  • Specific industry knowledge: While some of this can and will be learned on the job, you need to have a solid grasp of the industry’s dynamics, particularly the areas of the field that you’re looking to work in. Over time, you’ll want to become an expert in your industry as this will increase your ability to connect data with business problem-solving.
  • Communication skills: In addition to acquiring intelligence analyst-related skills, you’ll need to be able to communicate your findings effectively to the other professionals you’ll be working with. To some extent, if you work in back-end BI, you won’t need to communicate quite as much. However, if you work in the front-end, you’ll be responsible for communicating technical concepts to non-technical people. This kind of role requires excellent communication skills.
  • Data visualization: Expanding on the point above, in order to ensure good communication you will also need to have data visualization skills. Visualizations are the best tools to make trends and general insights understandable. Being able to clearly see how the data changes in time is what makes it possible to extract relevant conclusions from it. For this purpose, you should be able to differentiate between various charts and report types as well as understand when and how to use them to benefit the BI process. 
  • Advanced vision and attention to detail: By its very nature, business intelligence is incredibly detail-oriented. As a BI analyst or developer, you'll often work with the smallest fragment of information with the objective of turning it into actionable insight. You will need a great deal of forward-thinking vision and the ability to pay very close attention to detail to succeed in the fast-paced world of BI.
  • Statistical analysis: Statistical knowledge is another important skill especially if you want to become a BI analyst. Understanding various statistical components such as mean, median, range, variance, and others, can enable you to go deeper into the data and extract relevant conclusions from it. 
  • Programming knowledge: On a more technical side of things, having programming language knowledge can also be a very valuable skill when it comes to pursuing a career in BI. Many solutions require the use of different programming languages to perform advanced analysis such as R, Python, Javascript, just to name a few, and knowing them can significantly enhance your skillset. 
  • Technical notion: Our next BI skill is not fundamental, but it can certainly make you a more complete and prepared professional. Business intelligence is an industry that highly relies on technology and having a technical notion of how to manage these technologies can be a plus. With this, we do not mean that you need to know how to use every tool in the market, but understanding how these technologies can work to your advantage.
  • Business acumen: Last but not least on our list of essential BI skills is a little something called business acumen. To thrive in a business intelligence career, you will need to possess a swift ability to understand your company’s business model and how to tailor your efforts to not only gain maximum value from your key performance indicators (and the KPI management process) but also make strategic decisions that will help your organization succeed on a continual basis.
Your Chance: Want to start your business intelligence journey today?
Try our modern software 14-days for free & experience the power of BI! 

What Are the First Steps To Getting Started?

Let’s delve into those all-important first steps to embarking on a business intelligence analyst career path in addition to other related BI-based job roles, starting with aiming for success at a student level.

a) If You’re A Student

Students paying attention in class

If you're a student, you have one of the most important advantages on your side – time. This is especially true if you’re early enough into your undergraduate years to choose your major. Some of the best degrees for those interested in a business intelligence career include:

  • Management Information Systems
  • Any branch of Computer Science
  • Business-related degrees

However, if you are about to graduate with a history degree, for example – have no fear. The professional world is filled to the brim with people working in areas that have absolutely no relevance to their college major. The most important thing you can do is gain experience in the real world.

This brings us to our next subject…

Gaining work experience 

One way you could start is by getting accepted for an internship working at a company with a dedicated analysis department that can teach you about DSS software. Some of the big-name companies of this kind include Facebook, Google, and Linkedin, but there are many others you can find, with even more on the horizon as digital technologies continue to evolve. Getting an entry-level position at a consulting firm is also a great idea – the big ones include IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG, and Ernst and Young.

Another excellent approach is to gain experience directly in the office of a BI provider, working as a data scientist or a data visualization intern, for instance. This way, you will be immersed in the core business and acquire primary hands-on experience.

During the application process, make it clear that you’re interested in the field of BI and willing to carve out a niche in that area as you work on your projects.

b) If You’re Already In The Workforce

If you’re already in the workforce, you have one advantage that students don’t – experience. And hopefully, some transferable skills.

For example, if you’re already an excellent communicator, project manager, or business strategist, you already possess skills that are crucial to success in intelligence for business. Alternatively, if you come from a more IT-related background, you are armed with a wealth of tech-based skills that are invaluable in the BI field.

Your first and biggest step will come in the form of finding job positions, examining the skills and qualifications these roles demand and then analyzing the holes in your skillset that you need to fill.

This could involve anything from learning SQL to buying some textbooks on data warehouses. If you’d like some resources in this area, we have posts on related business intelligence books and business intelligence podcasts you can use to start your research.

Business Intelligence Job Roles

To help shape your career-boosting efforts, we will now explore 6 sought-after branches of analytical and business intelligence skills, business intelligence analyst skills, and developer and engineer-based skills as well as their role in a professional working environment.

1. Business intelligence analyst

A BI analyst is responsible for drilling down into large sets of relevant data, including KPIs, that a business or organization uses in relation to the development of various processes, initiatives, and departments. A BI analyst assists in strategic thinking, data-driven decision-making, and the discovery of new, valuable conclusions. They work closely with product managers as they can shape the direction the company will take with the design of its products or services based on these findings. It is a role that focuses mostly on the business side of things, which makes it very versatile. Since BI analysts have both technical and business knowledge, there are plenty of options to grow and choose different career paths. What makes a good BI analyst? Let's take a look at relevant business intelligence analyst skills:

  • Relevant and demonstrable experience in the BI analyst field.
  • Excellent leadership and interpersonal skills.
  • A firm grasp of business strategy and KPIs.
  • A fundamental understanding of SQL and the technical aspects of BI.
  • A well-crafted business intelligence resume.
  • A working understanding of cloud computing and data visualization

2. BI developer

We've examined business intelligence analyst skills as well as what makes a good BI analyst. Now, let's move on to development. In a slightly more technically-driven role, a BI developer is responsible for building, creating, or improving BI-driven solutions that help analysts transform data into knowledge, including data dashboards. BI developer skills encompass crafting and executing data-driven queries upon request as well as the ongoing technical development of a company's BI platforms or solutions. Here is a more specific rundown of BI developer skills:

  • Demonstrable experience in the areas of BI development or data science.
  • A background in (or a firm grasp of) data warehousing and mining.
  • Up-to-date knowledge of the BI industry and its various languages or systems.
  • A strong analytical mind with proven problem-solving abilities.
  • A well-crafted business intelligence resume.
  • The ability to innovate with computer science-centric competencies.

3. BI consultant

A BI consultant needs to provide expertise in the design, development, and implementation of BI and analytics tools and systems. S/He is responsible for providing cost-effective solutions to achieve business objectives, comparing operational progress against project development while assisting in planning budgets, forecasts, timelines, and developing reports on performance metrics. They often are senior professionals with a lot of knowledge and experience in BI and all the roles just mentioned. This is a holistic role that needs a background in mathematics or science with fully utilizing these (tech) skills:

  • Understand, manipulate data and statistics
  • Fully capable of using analysis tools and software
  • Expert knowledge of data visualization tools
  • Project management mastery

4. BI engineer

Working in close collaboration with BI analysts and developers as well as clients, customers, and various internal departments, an engineer is responsible for not only helping to fine-tune BI-based platforms, processes, and tools within an organization but also for the ongoing strategic implementation of such tools, including dashboard tools. The role of a business intelligence engineer is incredibly rich, varied, and demanding.

To succeed as a business intelligence engineer, you will need to acquire business intelligence analyst skills as well as BI developer skills, building on these competencies by gaining a deeper knowledge of each area of BI. You’ll also need to possess excellent project management abilities to succeed in this role. Moreover, as this is becoming an increasingly competitive role (equal to a business intelligence analyst career path), you will also need to ensure that your ‘resume BI engineer’ is flawless, eye-catching, and innovative, especially if you want to set yourself apart from the pack.

To help you improve your business intelligence engineer resume, or as it’s sometimes referred to, ‘resume BI engineer’, you should explore this BI resume example for guidance that will help your application get noticed by potential employers.

5. BI Project Manager

As you can imagine by its name, the BI project manager is a role that takes care of aligning all elements to ensure the efficient delivery of a project. It is a job that requires high communication skills as it needs to relate with several stakeholders such as operations engineers, business owners, developers, and others. He/she ensures that all teams are aligned with the general aim of the project, collaborates with them to complete tasks efficiently, ensures the distribution of meetings and project status with reports, among other tasks related to management. Some business intelligence manager skills include:  

  • Relevant knowledge of business intelligence and data management
  • Experience/studies in project management (PMP certification or equivalent)
  • Communication and organizational skills 
  • Ability to generate reports knowing the interests of all stakeholders
  • Risk management skills to quickly adapt to any issues that may arise

6. BI Data Scientist 

A data scientist has a similar role as the BI analyst, however, they do different things. While analysts focus on historical data to understand current business performance, scientists focus more on data modeling and prescriptive analysis. They use advanced technologies such as machine learning models to generate predictions about future business performance. They can help a company forecast demand, or anticipate fraud. The career path of a data scientist is similar to the one of an analyst, and the skills they should possess include: 

  • Strong mathematical and statistical skills to work with complex models
  • Programming language skills such as R or Python 
  • SQL and data visualization skills

Main Challenges Of A Business Intelligence Career

We’ve already covered a lot of ground about BI as a profession, while it looks promising both professionally and financially, it doesn’t come without challenges. The business intelligence industry is constantly evolving and becoming more competitive, which means professionals need to keep up with the latest changes and technologies to stay ahead of the rest. Here we will list a few of the challenges that you can face while pursuing a BI path. 

  1. Being numbers and data-driven: There are many expectations when it comes to working with BI and data analytics. However, it is important to consider that this is a very technical profession that requires you to be passionate about working with numbers and advanced technologies. This will also require you to do some tedious work at times such as fixing formatting issues, labeling mistakes, tracking missing data, among others. That said, if you are not a numbers person then this might not be the right road for you.
  2. Understanding the business side of things: Added to the point above, another challenging point in BI is that you will also need to understand the business side of things. In order to help a company extract the needed potential from its performance, you need to understand how data can drive the organization forward. Another important note here is that applying data analysis to a business context means you will need to work with people that don’t have any experience in the field. There will be many times in which you will find yourself explaining the data to others. This requires great communication skills as well as patience, as non-technical users might have high expectations about what is coming from the process.  
  3. You never stop learning: As mentioned, the BI industry is growing every year and more and more young professionals are interested in pursuing this profession. This makes the work field much more competitive by the day. For this reason, before diving into it you need to know that you will never stop learning and studying. There are new technologies emerging every day, and in order to stay on top of others, you will need to keep up with the latest developments. 

Main Players In The BI Industry 

As we reach the end of our BI journey, there is one last point we need to cover. If you are just diving into the industry, you need to have some type of awareness about its main players. Since the beginning of BI, many tools have emerged with different features and pricing options. Here we will name 3 of the top ones. If you want to take a deeper look into a more researched approach to the top software companies in the market, then take a look at our BI tools article including a rundown of the top 14 tools based on pricing, features, and user reviews! 

  1. datapine:  

datapine is an online BI software built with a user-friendly interface that makes it accessible for anyone without the need for prior technical knowledge. This complete tool allows you to connect data from several sources and visualize it with interactive dashboards that can be easily shared with relevant stakeholders. It allows its users to extract actionable insights from their data in real-time with the help of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence technologies. datapine also offers features for more advanced users such as an SQL mode so that analysts can build their own queries. 

Main features: 

  • Intuitive drag and drop interface
  • User-friendly predictive analytics and AI technologies
  • Interactive dashboard features and templates 
  • Multiple reporting and sharing options 
  1. SAS BI: 

SAS can be considered the “mother” of all BI tools. Founded in the ’70s, this software offers a range of products and applications that allow for statistical analysis, predictive analytics, data mining, text mining, and forecasting. Like this, data scientists, engineers, managers, and other users, can access data from multiple sources and perform advanced analysis to extract relevant insights from it. The software focuses on 5 main pillars: visual data exploration, user-friendly analysis, interactive reporting, collaborative analytics, and mobile analytics. 

Main features: 

  • Integration with other applications
  • Visual data exploration supported by machine learning
  • Interactive dashboards and self-service reporting 
  • On-the-go analysis with mobile app 
  1. SAP: 

Wildly used in the European market, SAP is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that offers a range of solutions to manage business operations and client relationships through effective data processing. It allows companies to get a centralized view of their data and simplifies complex business processes by giving employees easy access to real-time insights. Like this, users can perform efficient reporting, generate forecasts, visualize their data, and share it from any location.   

Main features:

  • Enterprise-level reporting system
  • Self-service data visualizations 
  • Sharing options across departments 
  • Forecasting and real-time analytics 
  • Industry-specific capabilities 
Your Chance: Want to start your business intelligence journey today?
Try our modern software 14-days for free & experience the power of BI! 

Key Takeaways: You’ll Need To Learn!

Whether you’re a student or a working professional, you need to have as much knowledge as possible of intelligence for business in addition to the specific industry that you want to migrate towards.

There is a lot to learn. The best way to shortcut this process is to go on LinkedIn, pay for an InMail service, and reach out to BI professionals that you feel could offer you valuable information or insights, asking if they would like to have coffee or lunch with you.

During your search, you’ll notice that such professionals can have a few different job titles. According to Key2Consulting, some common titles include:

  • Big Data Developer
  • BI Consultant
  • Database Applications Developer
  • Data Warehouse Developer
  • Data Warehousing Consultant
  • ETL Developer

Once you’ve sparked up a dialogue, you can ask your chosen professionals a raft of in-depth questions about their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities and how you can get involved. You could also reach out to your existing network or ask your college or university professors for advice or referrals if you’re a student.

You should also consider going to meetups about data science. Yes, they exist.

These are going to be your people. As any truly great recruiter will tell you, raw skills can only take you so far. It’s just as much about who you know as what you know.

You need to gravitate towards these communities to get connected. Whether a friend or connection introduces you to a new job right away isn’t the point. The point is to start building a group of friends, mentors, and professional connections with which you can talk about data science and intelligence for business.

Over time, you will undoubtedly find that your newfound network is your greatest professional asset. And alongside a great business intelligence resume, success will be yours sooner than you think.

BI offers a unique opportunity to blend technical skills, business problem-solving skills, and communication skills into one rewarding, exciting, and ever-evolving career.

Working in BI gives you a lot of flexibility regarding the specific industries you want to work in and the problems that you want to solve. We have seen that restaurants can also benefit from analytics and there are many big data examples that also show how analytics can help measure employee satisfaction as well as improve it.

Combined with an optimistic outlook for job growth and solid compensation, these factors all mix to make a business intelligence career path worth exploring.

If you want to get started in BI, focus on developing relationships with industry professionals first. They’ll give you the “on the ground” guidance you need to figure out your exact next steps. Take their advice, work on your BI skills, and continue to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask “dumb” questions. Working on your BI resume won’t hurt, either.

But above all, don’t be afraid to make a career switch if you’re unhappy where you are at now.

To summarize, here are the top 10 skills you will need in a business intelligence career:

  1. Data Analysis
  2. Problem-solving
  3. Specific industry knowledge
  4. Communication skills
  5. Data visualization and interpretation 
  6. Advanced vision and attention to detail
  7. Statistical analysis 
  8. Technical notion 
  9. Programming knowledge
  10. Business acumen

And if you want to start practicing your skills, and don't have much experience, you can check out our software with interactive tutorials to explore a proper BI tool for a 14-day trial! And it's completely free!